Off Again

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Stockholm Harbor

2015 will go down as my year of overseas travel. My husband and I are starting off for Europe on August 1.  We will start out with sort of a family reunion (his) in Stockholm for a week and then continue on for a cruise from Bergen to Barcelona.  I will return to reviewing 1951 movies shortly after our return on August 25.

Barcelona

Barcelona

 

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

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Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Elick Moll and Frank Partos from a novel by Dana Lyon
1951/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Alan Spender: [to Victoria/Karin] The trouble with you is you really don’t know how to relax.

I enjoyed this noirish woman-in-peril thriller.

Karin Dernakova and Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) are helping each other survive a concentration camp.  Victoria has lost her entire family and home in the war.  Karin was able to send her infant son Chris off to stay with her rich aunt Sophie in San Francisco before war broke out.  Karin dreams being of reunited with the boy after the war is over and plans to take Victoria with her.  When Karin dies before liberation, Victoria decides to borrow her identity in hopes of a better life in America.  In the relocation camp, she attempts to make contact with the aunt and discovers she has died.

When she gets to New York, Victoria/Karin meets with some lawyers who advise that Aunt Sophie left her entire fortune to Chris.  A distant relative by marriage, Alan Spender, was named the boy’s guardian and since has adopted him.  Victoria protests but the problem seems to be solved when she and Alan fall in love and marry.

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Victoria and Alan set up housekeeping in the aunt’s mansion on Telegraph Hill.  It turns out that the house comes with Chris’s governess Margaret.  Victoria quickly forms a real bond with the boy and is met with jealousy and resistance from Margaret.  For some reason, she also takes up residence in a guest room.  Then a series of events make her believe that Alan is trying to kill her …  With William Lundigan as Alan’s friend and Victoria’s admirer.

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I thought this was a solid, entertaining little picture.  I liked that it did not go the direction I thought it was headed.  The leads were all very good in their roles and Wise, while no Hitchcock, handles suspense well.

Basehart and Cortese met during the shooting of this film and were married shortly thereafter.

Trailer – massive spoilers included

Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N. (1951)

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Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, and Aeneas MacKenzie; adopted for the screen by C.S. Forester from his novels
UK/1951
Warner Bros.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Lt. Crystal: Signal from the lookout, sir. Natividad’s gone about – one more tack and she’ll be at the harbor mouth.

Capt. Horatio Hornblower, R.N: Very good, Mr. Crystal. Well, gentlemen, that leaves time for a rubber of whist.

This sea adventure makes a good popcorn movie.

The story is set during the Napoleonic Wars. The HMS Lydia is sailing in Southern waterns on a secret mission known only to its master, Captain Horatio Hornblower (Gregory Peck). As the story begins, the ship is becalmed and food and water are running short.  Sailors are beginning to die of scurvy.  The ship is saved from mutiny when Hornblower correctly predicts that the wind will pick up and the ship will reach land within 24 hours.

The ship’s mission was to reach a Caribbean island and join forces with a rebel in an effort to oust France’s Spanish ally from the a America’s.  The idea was to keep Spain occupied so occupied in defending its colonies that it would have no time to aid France.  The Lydia sets out at once and, after a battle,  captures a Spanish galleon.  Suddenly, the news arrives that Spain has switched sides and is now England’s ally.  Hornblower must free the ship.  In the process, he finds he must take Lady Barbara (Virgina Mayo), sister of the Duke of Wellington, on board.  She had been fleeing a yellow fever outbreak in Panama.

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In due course, Hornblower and Lady Barbara fall in love.  But Hornblower is married and Lady Barbara is engaged to an admiral so this love is of the tortured variety.  Most of the rest of the film, however, is devoted to sea battles and Hornblower’s daring escape with a couple of his men from French captivity.

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When Raoul Walsh helms an adventure story like this, you are almost guaranteed an entertaining couple of hours.  Gregory Peck made a speciality of this kind of manly but humane hero and does well here.  Mayo (The Best Years of Our Lives, White Heat) is almost unrecognizable as the kind and pure Lady Barbara. so different from her usual slutty roles.  There is a stirring score by Robert Farnon.

Trailer

 

The African Queen (1951)

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Directed by John Huston
Written by James Agee and John Huston from the novel by C. S. Forester
1951/USA
Romulus Films/Horizon Pictures
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
#248 of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die

Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

This is a fun classic and I think Humphrey Bogart deserved his Oscar despite the competition from Brando.

Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) has been assisting her brother Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morely) as a missionary in German East Africa for the past ten years.  Charlie Allnut (Bogart) visits them regularly to deliver their mail.  One day, he advises that his visits may become less regular since war has broken out in Europe and Germans in the colony will be eager to requisition his boat, The African Queen.  As soon as Charlie departs, the mission is descended on by Germans.  The native people are impressed as soldiers and their huts burned.  Samuel dies soon after, apparently of grief and Rose is left alone.

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Fortunately, Allnut returns to the mission on the same day and rescues Rose.  She comes up with the brainstorm of using the African Queen to blow up a German ship that is blocking the way of a British advance into the colony.  Despite all of Allnut’s warnings about the raging rapids on the river leading to the lake and the mechanical state of the boat, Rose cannot be moved.  She uses her considerable will to more or less bully Allnut into agreeing to her plan.

The rest of the film follows the pair’s adventures en route to the lake and their blossoming romance.

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I have watched this film a number of times.  This time I found Hepburn’s character extremely irritating in the first half.  Fortunately, the romance came along to bring back all the good feelings of prior viewings.  This may not be Bogart’s best performance but it is an excellent  one and in a role outside his usual range.  This is just an exciting, humorous adventure story made by the best craftsmen in Hollywood.

Someday I really must read Hepburn’s book about the making of the film, The Making of the African Queen: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind.

Humphrey Bogart won the Academy Award for Best Actor.  The film was nominated in the categories of Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Trailer

 

Diary of a Country Priest (1951)

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Directed by Robert Bresson
Written by Robert Bresson from a novel by George Bernanos
1951/France
Union Generale Cinematographique
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#251 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Curé d’Ambricourt: [God] is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.

This has all the necessary ingredients to make a great film yet somehow I just don’t connect with it.

A young priest (Claude Leydu) writes a diary about his spiritual life and attempts to ministert to his flock in an isolated French village.  He is an outsider and all the villagers and gentry view him with suspicion and not a little contempt.  Complicating matters, the priest has some sort of stomach ailment which is causing him to subsist on bread and wine.  All the wine drinking causes rumors that he is a drunkard.
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Despite all this, the priest soldiers on and even manages to provoke a religious awakening in a countess shortly before her death.  This backfires agains him as well when her malicious daughter tells the world he actually upset her mother so much as to provoke her death.  After the priest passes out in the street covered in his vomited blood, he is forced to seek medical help in a nearby town.  He lives the remainder of his short life there with a seminary school mate who lost his faith.  Nothing can shake that of our priest.

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This film is undeniably stunningly beautiful to look at and has a great score.  The acting is good as well.  Stories about spiritual struggles often resonate with me.  Something about Bresson’s cool detachment from his story make this less than compelling, though.

Montage of clips set to “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” sung by Bob Dylan

Awaara (1951)

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Directed by Raj Kapoor
Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas; story by V.P. Sathe
1951/India
All India Film Corporation/R.K. Films Ltd.
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Our people are gracious and kind. They go to all the trouble to go to a cinema, stand in long queues and procure a ticket. They go through the hustle and bustle, through the blazing sun and the thrashing rain, to see your film, and; as I have always said – if you do not cheat the audience, they are very kind to you. Don’t make a fool of them. Do not take them for granted. They may not be as intelligent or as critical as other audiences, but why they have come there, they know: they want to be entertained. — Raj Kapoor

This early Bollywood musical is three hours of pure entertainment.

Justice Raghunath believes there is no room for emotion in the law.  As the film opens, we are at the trial of Raj (Raj Kapoor) for attacking him.  Raj is unrepresented but, at the last minute, the lovely Rita (Nargis), an attorney, comes into represent the young thief.  She is also the Justice’s ward.  We then segue into flashback as Rita brings out the reasons for Raj’s crime.

The bandit Jagga kidnaps the Justice’s  beloved wife Leela as revenge for the Judge’s wrongful conviction of him as a young man.  Jagga’s father and grandfather were bandits and that was enough to make him a bandit as far as the judge was concerned.  When Jagga discovers that Leela is pregnant, he decides to prove to the judge that parentage makes no difference.  He sends Leela home unmolested after four days.  When Leela announces her pregnancy the judge does not believe that he is the father and casts her out into the street.  Their son Raj is born in a gutter.65600-awaara1951dreamdancesequence11

Leela and Raj live in a Bombay slum and mother works her fingers to the bone so that her son can go to school.  She keeps his parentage from him.  At school, Raj and Rita fall into puppy love.  Then Raj is expelled from school for some reason and Rita moves away.  Jagga makes his move and turns the talented Raj into a thief like himself.

Rita’s father dies and the judge becomes her guardian.  Twelve years later Raj and Rita are reunited while Raj is trying to rob the judge’s house in the guise of a piano tuner. The rest of the story follows their star-crossed romance.

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This movie is full of good songs, dancing, comedy, action and romance.  Kapoor is enormously appealing.  Some of the numbers must be seen to be believed.  The dream sequence in the middle of the film is positively surreal, and I mean that in a good way.  I was kind of dreading a three-hour Indian movie and the hours flew by.  If you are looking for something that will leave you with a smile on your face, this could be the movie for you.

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A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

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Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Oscar Saul and Tennessee Williams from the play by Williams
1951/USA
Chales K. Feldman Group/Warner Bros.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#245 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Blanche DuBois: I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.

This is a practically perfect adaptation of a powerful and poetic masterpiece.  Only freedom from Hayes Code restrictions could possibly have made it better.

Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) has come to the end of her rope.  Having burned all her bridges behind her, she arrives tin New Orleans o seek safe haven with her younger sister, Stella (Kim Hunter).  Stella is used to Blanche’s demands and airs and, although pregnant, welcomes her extended stay.  Unfortunately for Blanche, Stella is married to and passionately in love with Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando).  Stanley is the diametric opposite of Blanche.  He is brutally honest, confrontational and uneducated while Blanche is trying desperately to preserve the illusion of some imagined past as a Southern belle and quotes from the great works of literature.

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Things do not work out well in the cramped Kowalski flat to say the least.  Blanche is constantly putting Stanley down while he spends all his time seeking to strip her bare of her pretensions.  It is obvious that her current situation is untenable so Blanche sets out to win Mitch (Karl Malden), the most civilized of Stanley’s poker buddies.  In the meantime, Blanche’s presence has strained Stella and Stanley’s relationship and Stanley becomes more and more determined to rid himself of an unwanted houseguest.

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What can one say about this classic?  The acting could not be bettered.  I don’t know if Leigh gets enough credit for her performance of a very difficult part.  It’s easy to overlook when she shares the screen with the volcano that was young Brando. One of his triumphs was the humanity he brought to what could have been the part of a mere bully.   I could not have lived with Blanche for ten minutes but Tennessee Williams makes her fate stand in for all the pain of a hard and heartless world.  Most highly recommended.

A Streetcar Named Desire won Academy Awards in the categories of: Best Actress (Leigh); Best Supporting Actor (Malden); Best Supporting Actress (Hunter); and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black–and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Brando); Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design; Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

 

The River (1951)

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Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Rumer Godden and Jean Renoir from Godden’s novel
1951/UK/France/India/USA
Oriental International Filma
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

 

Valerie: This… being together… in the garden. All of us happy, and you with us here, I didn’t want it to change… and it’s changed. I didn’t want it to end… and it’s gone. It was like something in a dream. Now you’ve made it real. I didn’t want to be real.

This has a few downsides but Renoir’s beautiful vision of India is not one of them.  It is my favorite of the director’s non-French films.

The film relates the story of three girls’ comings of age in India.  They are nearly 18-year old Valerie, the “pretty one”, her cousin Harriet, a younger self-styled ugly duckling and inspiring writer, and Melanie, the daughter of the Irish next-door neighbor (Arthur Shields) and his Hindu wife.  Most of the action takes place in or around Harriet’s house.  Her father runs a jute mill and her mother is expecting the next in a long line of babies.  Harriet has several younger sisters and one rambunctious little brother named Bogey.  Melanie has just returned from boarding school.  She immediately takes off her Western clothes and vows to wear only a sari thereafter. The other characters that loom large are the large river that runs by the property and the ceremonies and daily life of the local people.

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Into this menage comes Captain John, a twenty-something American who lost one of his legs in the war and is terribly self-conscious about it.  He becomes the main point of interest of all of the girls.  Harrriet, in particular, is passionately devoted to him.  He is mostly oblivious to all this attention but becomes closest to Melanie who, like him, is struggling to discover where she fits in in the world.

The story is a slice of life exploration of all the confusion, pain, and exaltation i\of first love. Perversely, tragedy helps various characters come to some kind of peace with themselves.

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I’m not sure whether this was Renoir’s first color film.  He certainly handles it like his painter father might have.  The film looks absolutely spectacular.  The portraits of Indian life are sensuous and ring very true.  This film does not boast the best acting in the world.  In particular, the actor who plays Captain John is earnest and somewhat endearing but does not really portray inner turmoil the way a more experienced actor might.  I was fully satisfied just looking at the thing and basking in some languid Indian days.  Recommended.

This film was instrumental in launching the careers of Satyajit Ray (Pather Panchali) – an assistant on the film – and Subrata Mitra, who went on to become Ray’s cinematographer.

Trailer

 

A Place in the Sun (1951)

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Directed by George Stevens
Written by Harry Brown and Michael Wilson from a play by Patrick Kearney and the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
1951/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#249 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Angela: Did you promise to be a good boy? Not to waste your time on girls?

George Eastman: I don’t waste my time.

Such a sad and beautiful movie.

This is a much more romantic version of the Dreiser novel.  George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) was raising singing on street corners by his very religious missionary parents.  His mother’s brother, on the other hand, is enormously wealthy and the owner of Eastman Industries.  George shows up at the factory one day looking for work.  He is hired as a lowly shipping clerk and basically forgotten about. Although fraternization is strictly forbidden by company rules, he takes up with a fellow shipping department employee, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters).  Before long, they are lovers.

Then his uncle spots George in the shipping department and decides an Eastman should be doing something better.  He asks George to a party at his home to discuss the matter.  There George meets the simply ravishing Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor).  It is love at first sight and soon Angela and George are an item.

1951: Film stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (1920-1966) star in the Paramount melodrama 'A Place In The Sun'.

In the meantime, Alice has discovered she is pregnant.  She is unable to find a doctor to help her out of her predicament and demands that George marry her.  Her demands become most insistent at the very moment when it looks like George has or will soon be accepted as a full-fledged member of the Eastman family and a suitable marriage partner for Angela.

On the day they were to have been married, George takes Alice out for a ride in a row boat.  The boat capsizes and she drowns.  The rest of the movie follows George’s travails up to and including his murder trial.  With Anne Revere, in her last role before her blacklisting, as George’s mother and Raymond Burr as the District Attorney.

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This film is the point at which the studio system met method acting.  It deserved all the accolades it received.  The acting is brilliant and the production from the cinematography to the music is stunning.  There may never have been more glorious love scenes than those between Clift and Taylor in this movie.  I felt sorry for every single person in the story by the end.  Recommended.

A Place in the Sun won Academy Awards for Best Director; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actor (Clift) and Best Actress (Winters).

Trailer

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Edmund H. North
1951/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#252 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Helen: Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!

The sleek design of this early sci-fi thriller with a message has held up remarkably well over the years.

America is the the midst of a Red Scare.  So when a flying saucer lands on the Washington DC mall, naturally the aliens are met with tanks and artillery and as soon as one emerges he is shot.  This is Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who has come to deliver a warning to gun-happy earthlings.  Fortunately he heals quickly and is backed up by a gigantic robot named Gort who is capable of vaporizing anything made of metal, including tanks.  Klaatu is taken to the hospital.  Gort remains exactly where he is.  Both the spaceship and the robot are made of a substance which is impervious to all earthly attempts to breach it and cannot be moved.

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Klaatu escapes from the hospital and begins to roam the streets clad in clothes belonging to a Major Carpenter.  He has decided to find out what makes these earthlings tick.  He spots a room for rent in a boarding house and rents it on the spot.  There he befriends the open-minded Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her little boy Bobby (Billy Gray).  Klaatu has an especially strong bond with young Bobby and babysits for him while Helen goes out with her boring insurance salesman boyfriend Tom (Hugh Marlowe).

Klaatu has been rebuffed in his desire to address the leaders of all the world’s countries so he seeks out noted genius and Einstein stand-in Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe).  Barnhardt immediately grasps the urgency of the situation and assembles the world’s scientists to listen to Klaatu’s plea.  In the meantime, however, Tom proves to be a snitch and it is up to Helen to keep our alien in one piece long enough to carry out his mission.

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This still looks simply stunning with its clean lines and gorgeous cinematography.  The anti-nuclear message moves what could be a simple fantasy up a notch in significance.  The evocative theramin score by Bernard Hermann is practically an additional character.  This film is a real treat.  Highly recommended.

The Blu-Ray DVD looks really beautiful and contains a fantastic commentary by directors Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (The Day After).  There’s an additional commentary by some film score experts that I haven’t listened to yet.

Trailer